fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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and now, to compound your fly rod decision

It’s not the press release* itself (below) that intrigued me so much as the question as to whether Douglas Outdoors faces an uphill challenge.

All the right connections are made in the announcement — it’s led by the former president of a well-known fly rod and reel manufacturer, who later was also involved with a mid-range manufacturer; has a connection to conservation and a rod who holds two IGFA fly rod records, and touts a “made-in-the-USA” label.

If it’s not enough to launch another mid-range fly rod line in a market filled with options, particularly from more established, formerly upscale manufacturers, Douglas Outdoors promises to limit sales through dealers, mainly independent shops.

A FRESH LEGACY

Jim Murphy, former President of Hardy North America and founder of Redington, announces the founding of Douglas Outdoors. This is a new partnership with the Barclay family, prominent conservationists and owners of the Douglaston Salmon Run (DSR) on the famed Salmon River, in New York. Douglas Outdoors will present two new fly rod ranges, a line of spin and casting rods, and two new fly reels at the annual ICAST/IFTD show on July 15 in Orlando Florida. This first product offering will feature the Eclipse fly reel, the first to be made in the Douglas Outdoors factory in New York.

“We are in the process of building a new fishing rod factory here in New York State.” Murphy said, “We have hired a leading composites engineer to head the team. Tom Murphey, formerly of the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque is not only a prominent scientist in the field, but is also the holder of two current IFGA records on fly. Tom will be applying the latest material science breakthroughs to fishing rod design. We will bring our first US Made rods to market in 2015.”

“Douglas Outdoors is committed to a dealer-centric program. Our focus will be on the independent dealers, and we will offer them products, programs, and support that will reflect on their key role in the fishing industry.” Murphy continued, “I look forward to presenting Douglas Outdoors to the industry and to offering a fresh legacy of tackle and services that anglers and dealers alike will find both new and familiar.”


*This appeared in my fly fishing club’s in box.

Disclosure: No, I have not received nor do I expect to receive any compensation for this post.

Lastly, I don’t know how a “legacy,” by definition, can be fresh. I blame the copywriter.

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don’t forget your basics (or, don’t trust that others remember theirs)

Like many who’ve taken up fly fishing, the most enjoyable moments often bubble up in sharing one’s love of the sport. That’s why each Opening Day I’ve donated time to helping others learn just enough to get into that fish that lights the fire of a lifelong hobby. It may not be the first fish one lands on a fly rod, but everyone has that fish, the one.

For better or worse, it’s fallen to me during the spring and fall novice fly fishing classes to sum up and illustrate the basics of hooking, playing and landing a fish. About ninety minutes of the day-long class is dedicated to casting at a nearby pond and during that time pairs of students are cycled through one station outlining the basics of using a Belgian cast with an unwieldy nymph rig and my station. With about twenty students, that gives me ten minutes or less with each pair. And that’s how it went this last weekend.

I take a certain pride in my brief involvement. Casting, presentation, fly selection and an understanding of fish behavior are necessary and area the main aspects of any lessons about fly fishing. But the game really begins when those skills are well executed and a fish hooked.

I’ve been fly fishing long enough now that those ten minutes aren’t enough, even with my narrow, trout-centric experience. It starts with an outline of the scenario: on a large stream or midsized river, algae-slickened rocks all around, and fish that’ll take a fly. If one is chasing trout on a day trip not too far from here, if the rocks aren’t slick with algae, they’re weathered into an unstable roundness or, on smaller waters, can be still sharp glacial erratics. We’ve all been there; you must play the fish where you stand.

Fly rod and line control come next, focusing on the instinctive thumb grip, teaching that the index finger (or finger of choice) isn’t only for casting, and demystifying stripping. Lacking willing quarry, one student becomes the “fish” while the other reacts and I offer feedback. This fighting the “fish” quickly reveals poor line control and other mistakes. After proper line control is understood, we take time to talk about stripping behind the index finger. A simple enough process to comprehend, but when the pressure is on it’s more difficult to execute that one might expect.

Last Saturday, when rods where being disassembled and put away, I was told that a single student hadn’t made it to my station. I recruited a “fish,” put some distance between us the rest of the group, and asked this last student if I could check their rod before beginning. I made a quick cast only to find myself wondering why this rod was casting like a piece of rebar. To my question the student answered that it was a 5 wt. rod. That’s what she had been told at the shop, so the reel was loaded with 5-wt. line.

The identification of a rod’s weight (size or size of line it will cast) and weight (mass) can be found on the rod, above the grip. This rod was inscribed “Length 9’ • 5 3/4 oz.  #9 Line.” Translated, this was a nine-foot rod weighing 5 3/4 ounces and designed to carry a 9-wt. line.*

That afternoon I ended up teaching a bit more than usual, and was reminded that it all starts with the basics.

*For those who don’t fly fish, this mismatch of line and rod is akin to dropping a small four-cylinder engine into the chassis of a Peterbilt semi.


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on being a more imaginative fly fisher

There’s a fear that can creep over me in the company of other fly fishermen. Those who know me personally are likely to agree there’s a touch of restraint in my personality. Blending into a crowd is specialty learned during middle school; let’s spin it as a well-honed survival skill. Thankfully, in the years since, I have been able to put myself out there with the backing of friends and colleagues, though I still haven’t totally abandoned my introversion.

It was a recent podcast that made me realize that perhaps that fear coincides with the niggling thought that I may be a lazy fly fisher.

But I will hike to the fish. There was no hesitation last summer to march three miles into high-altitude lakes for brook trout no longer than the spread of my hand. I also tie flies. I built a fly rod. And it’s no problem getting up early to spend the day driving the 240-mile loop that takes me over Tioga Pass and Sonora Pass, alongside high-elevation streams and lakes as well as high-desert rivers.

I still feel a bit unworthy among my fly fishing peers. When others are describing the physical skill it took to lay a dry fly in front of a big trout 40 feet away, across four different currents and through 30 mile-per-hour crosswinds, I have no response. Oh, I’m catching fish to be sure. Just with less effort. It’s called nymphing; often under an indicator or dry fly.

It’s not that I’m apprehensive of trying different techniques. I’ll swing small wet flies, cast dries as far as I can — maybe 20 feet accurately — and chuck streamers when an opportunity presents itself.

Thinking about it, after being hammered by messages in blogs, podcasts and online forums that nymphing is inelegant (it is), too productive to be considered a real challenge and more akin to lure fishing than fly fishing, it occurs to me that nymphing, in fact, requires a bit more creativity than other tactics.

Why?

Nymphing often requires visualizing where your fly is and what its doing; rarely can you see it like a dry fly. It takes some thinking to set the depth at which that bead-head fly might be presented to fish hugging the stream bottom.

Observational skills are much more important. With dry flies you can rely on visual cues. When swinging flies, the take is abrupt and obvious. Nymphing, however, requires keen observation of subtle clues: the movement of the rod tip, the twitch of a strike indicator, even a suspicious flash of color. It takes skill to discern a take from your fly bumping simply into a rock or snag or hanging up on weeds.

What I’m trying to imply is that there’s another level of mental dexterity involved in nymphing and not required of other tactics. All tactics benefit from some knowledge of fish habits, hydrology and entomology and basic situational awareness.

Nymphing, however, requires imagination.

Guess that’s why it works so well for a day dreamer like me.


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my trouble with fly rods

VapenApparently more and more fly rod builders are chasing customers younger than I can pretend to be.

My tenure in the sport isn’t long, but long enough to absorb more than a few old timers’ tales, tales in which rods are referenced by the manufacturer and either a simple model number or more elegant name reflective of fly fishing. Examples: older rods such as the Paul Young Perfectionist, the Phillipson Epoxite Registered Midge and contemporary models like Winston’s Boron series or Orvis’ Access and Clearwater lines.

But, according to Sage, there can be only ONE*. While the Orvis Helios implies it’ll imbue one with god-like powers on the stream, at least that name still has an indirect connection to fishing†. Two years later we have the new Vapen rod from Redington. Vapen? Look it up. The first few results in a search of the Internet will show its etymology is Swedish for “weapon.” A bit of an odd name for a niche of fishing that typically embraces a catch and not-kill-or-wound philosophy. Then there’s the Vapen Red, with a polymer grip, co-developed with a golf club grip company, that’s the color of Technicolor lipstick. Yes, correlations between golf and fly fishing are many, and fly rod development — as well as that of nearly all fly fishing accoutrement &msash; has always been about chasing and adapting the latest technology from other industries.

But I’ve been thinking about stepping up to a nice, and lighter, fly rod. Now, it seems, it’s all moving a bit too fast for me and getting, well, a bit too flamboyant and aggressive for my tastes.

Maybe I’m that is slowing down as the world speeds up around me. Perhaps I’m closer to “vintage” that I’d care to admit. After all, I remember when marijuana was the “evil weed.” My high school education included a typing class. And these days I increasingly have to explain my pop references to the staff I’ve hired.

Guess there’s little hope I’ll ever be hip on the stream.

The comments, as always, are now open.


* Is someone at Sage a “Highlander” fan?
† Helios, the Titan god of the sun and god of the gift of sight, lived in a golden palace located in the River Okeanos.


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avoiding that 12-step program

I’m trying to avoid that 12-step program.

I’ve seen the results of the sickness. It’s not pretty. Often, it means a car can’t be parked in the garage.

An unchecked inventory of rods, reels, waders, vests and more spills from the shelves. A lathe, peppered with bits of grip cork, sits front and center, over fading oil stains. Boxes of feathers, thread, fur and hooks litter the floor. A pontoon boat or float tubes fill much of the rest of the space.

After taking an unblinking look at my array of fly fishing gear, it’s become clear that the time to act is now, before I lose control to an outside intervention. The rule around the house is that if an item hasn’t been used in a year, you’d better have a darn good reason — other than unshared sentimentality — for hanging on to it.

That hard look uncovered that 10-foot, 7 wt. rod that’s been wetted only once, chasing bass three years ago. I wouldn’t say I’m a trout snob, but bass fishin’ just hasn’t grabbed hold of me. And the trout I do chase generally don’t require much more than a 5 wt. (I’m actually leaning more toward a 4 wt. nowadays, but that’d require another acquisition.)

Luckily, I don’t have much, yet. There’s an old bamboo rod in one of those cases, but it’s safe; the wife suggested it could be decorative in the fly tying room that’ll be occupied by the last kid at home, probably for another three years. The spinning rods were long ago tucked into the garage at the cabin in the hope that visiting nephews might enjoy them. A boxful of spinners should join them shortly.

I expect that one’s collection of fly rods and reels is acquired for no other reason than fishing. Sometimes we want the latest and greatest, and forget what we already have. Sometimes it’s the search for the gear that will allow for longer casts, straighter cast, more accurate casts, or all of the above. Other considerations include differences in feel, flex, power, speed and fit and finish.

Maybe it’s a quixotic quest, but after casting various rods owned by friends and guides’ rods during the last year, I’m hoping to apply greater scrutiny any future gear acquisitions…buying only what I need, spending the money to get what I really want (with the required scrimping and saving). And there’ll still be room for a back up rod.

I’m hopeful that my belief that garages are for cars — many Californians seem to think that garages are above-ground basements — will keep to a minimum prevent any hoarding.


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trying to keep it simple (or, call me cheap)

A time comes in every fly fisherman’s career when it becomes clear that he (or she) has too much gear.

An outsider will recognize this long before the fly fisherman, but it seems that at some point, the vast majority of fly fisherman will eventually talk about simplifying. This may mean using a lanyard instead of a vest, carrying a single fly box instead of three, or taking up tenkara, which itself requires the purchase of more gear.

There’s an irony to the oft-told story of the boy who started fishing with cane rod, then grew into the fly fisherman who owns a small-brook rod, a small-river rod, a medium-river rod, a large-river rod, single- and double-handed salmon/steelhead rods, a stillwater rod and maybe a saltwater rod. And a few spare rods just in case. Each rod, of course, needs a matching reel. While there is legitimate need for a range of rods, this same fly fisherman will fondly recall the remarkable enjoyment, and simplicity, of chasing bluegill, bass, trout or some other fish with that cane rod of their childhood.

It’s been posited that a fly fisherman moves through four stages in how he approaches the sport, and the same might be true of gear:

  1. The first stage entails learning to cast with a rod that was passed down as a gift or was simply inexpensive enough to warrant an attempt at fly fishing. The first fish caught on this rod will likely be remembered forever. A fly box — probably a small, free one from the fly shop — and forceps fit into any available pocket. A broken branch serves as a wading staff.
  2. Stage two entails replacement of that first rod and reel with counterparts that are shiny and new, both of which are more of a personal choice, and not a choice necessarily predicated on budget. Then there’s the vest; two, three or five more fly boxes and the flies to fill them; a decent mesh net; a wading staff; and maybe waders and felt-sole wading boots.
  3. It all peaks in the third stage. A preference for a specific brand means new rods, new reels (with back ups for both) and new lines for every type of water fished or species chased. The vest may be replaced with a chest or sling pack. A rubber net is a must have, as is a lightweight, high-strength composite alloy collapsible wading staff. New rubber-soled wading boots include carbide cleats. A multitude of flies are purchased or tied, and if tied, enough materials to last three lifetimes must be bought.
  4. The stage of simplification. It’s not so much about catching fish anymore, it’s the act — the gear is secondary. Maybe an attempt to recapture the pure joy of that first fly rod-caught fish, or perhaps avoiding hauling so much stuff around the river. Perhaps the rod is one built at home…not perfect but nice looking enough, and mated to a reel chosen for no other reason than it’s a favorite. The single fly box may not be filled, but it has every fly that’ll be needed.

If the level of a fly fisherman is measured by his gear, I’m still an amateur. Coming into the hobby later in life hasn’t afforded me the years that many spend accumulating equipment.

I did, however, purchase a new net at the club auction this week, for many reasons. Sure, it’s lighter than my current net and more “appropriately sized” for the trout I land. Crafted by a club member who’s also a skilled woodworker (so, made in America), it’s one of a limited set with the club logo (in enamel and metal) worked into the handle, and my winning bid will go into the pool of money the club donates to many conservation organizations.

Fly fishing is not stuff, it’s what you do. (And it really shouldn’t matter what you use to do it.)

Net Detail

Close up of the enamel badge...


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it boils down to confidence in the little things

If you’re looking to build self-confidence and have taken up fly fishing, there is no shortage of instructional books, DVDs, websites and podcasts. Some folks will proclaim that things like more expensive better rods, a specific brand of fly line and the one killer fly will be the keys to a better fly fishing experience. But the best thing any angler can do is to just keep casting; confidence comes with learning to do things on your own.

Building this necessary confidence took me a while. Those who’ve seen my fishing — specifically my casting — might agree that blind confidence is a much bigger part of the equation than skill.

In casting, confidence requires first believing that you won’t piece a body part and, second, that you’ll get the fly where it needs to go.

When it comes to flies, there’s a prevalent theory that anglers gravitate toward certain flies — and hook most fish with them — because they have confidence in those flies. Confidence or lack thereof can also apply to the landing of or losing those hooked fish. My “confidence flies” are the Zebra Midge, AP Nymph and something like a Copper Chromie, but with red thread and silver wire.

Confidence in flies can be challenged again when you tie your own. The flies that work, the ones in which an angler has the most confidence, will be the ones tied most often. That certainly applies to my tying. (See the list above.)

My confidence was called into question this year, once again, when I hooked that first fish on the rod I built during the winter. My confidence grew with each fish coaxed to the net.

Soon I’ll be testing the limits of that confidence. I’ll be working with knotted leaders.

Yeah, old school stuff. There are folks who eschew modern loop-to-loop connections and extruded knotless leaders and swear by knotted leaders. In my case, I’ll be duplicating a time-tested formula used for stillwater nymphing (3 feet of 1X, 3 feet of 3X and 7 to 10-plus feet of 5X to the depth fished).

It’s my knot-tying ability that’ll be tested…in a lake where 18-inch rainbow, brown or cutthroat trout aren’t uncommon, and often one might get into a 24 incher. It doesn’t help that I have an inherent mistrust of tippet. The formula works; at least when tied by guides I’ve hired.

This time I’ll be me tying the knots, and I’d daresay that any fish I land will be well deserved.